Enterprise Architecture Strategy in Times of Economic Turmoil
Is Enterprise Architecture (EA) relevant in the midst of the financial crisis? Yes, as long as it adapts its strategies to changed conditions and provides productive efforts to meet the challenges and opportunities that such conditions bring.
by Jonathan Mack
Mar 13, 2009
hile the value proposition of Enterprise Architecture (EA) should always be transparent, the severity of the current economic downturn intensifies doubts about whether EA contributes to the economic survivability of many corporations. With immediate pressure to reduce cost and decreased focus on long-term competitive advantage, EA’s role in determining and implementing corporate strategy could seem expendable. The reality is just the opposite: Guiding IT strategy accurately during economically turbulent times is absolutely critical to corporate survival. A carefully designed IT strategy is also crucial in positioning the enterprise for prosperity when the economy rebounds.
However, to provide value under stressful economic conditions, EA must institute a strategy that is dynamic and capable of adapting to changing conditions. An organization that uses such a strategy can conduct timely re-evaluation and re-articulation of IT objectives and determine the means of achieving them.
Specifically, EA can ensure that an organization adapts successfully to challenging economic circumstances in the following ways:
Provide leadership in finding technology solutions that reduce near-term costs. While an EA principle is to look for the most cost-effective solutions, near-term cost reduction must take precedence over long-term IT investment. Qualified enterprise architects usually have experience with build-versus-buy decision-making and the ability to accurately analyze the potential significance of technological changes. This enables them to build EA teams that help significantly reduce expenditures with development decisions such as:
Reduced dependence on costly application containers in favor of lightweight server deployments
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) in lieu of in-house development efforts
External hosting services rather than wholly owned data centers
Proven open source solutions
Outsourcing opportunities to give clear, unbiased direction of the most cost-efficient steps the enterprise can take with minimal disruption to business functions
Where corporate cost-reduction initiatives are underway, EA can provide accurate information, clear analysis, and sharply honed recommendations. EA is in a key position to predict the impact of such projects, particularly on core business functions.
Serve key ongoing, funded projects directly. Under current economic conditions, EA resources should participate directly where they can make a difference to ongoing projects, even as the EA team endeavors to maintain the architecture's cohesion. In addition, EA’s information dissemination, governance, and common services functions become morenot lessimportant. EA should continue to add value by:
Facilitating information sharing and other forms of collaboration by in-flight projects
Ensuring that existing resources are used and that easily supportable designs are implemented in short-cycle (quick turnaround) governance reviews
Building services that make it immediately easier to utilize enterprise resources without impacting existing means of using those resources. For example, EA should provide easy-to-use, secure services for frequently required functionality (for example, accessing a corporate resource such as an image repository, a security system, or corporate database).
Fine-tune governance to adapt flexibly to circumstances. EA must revise processes associated with moving from concept through implementation to align properly with changing economic conditions. This requires streamlining some processes where the value of the change is highly time-sensitive, while taking a more cautious approach for projects that require significant investments for a perceived longer-term benefit.
Be a key contributor to enterprise licensing processes. In volatile economic times, the ability to negotiate favorable contract terms becomes a paramount concern. The prices vendors set will vary far more than under more stable economic conditions. Desperate vendors may dramatically under-price or even significantly over-price in the hope of making one big sale to save a quarter’s earnings.
An understanding of where each vendor’s set of products fits within the overall enterprise architecture is essential to determining the optimal strategy. EA enables an organization to know the role each vendor’s software plays in the overall corporate architecture. It can answer key questions vital to the company’s negotiating posture. For example:
Which vendors' products are used in mission-critical applications?
Which products carry significant costs, but are rarely used?
In which cases are a given vendor’s products paralleled by a similar on-premise product from another vendor? Could consolidation proceed without significant migration costs or disruption?
Are there ongoing discovery, proof-of-concept, or other budgeted projects that could realistically reduce the enterprise’s dependence on a particular vendor’s product?
Are there open source, outsourced, cloud, SaaS, or other initiatives in progress that could substantially mitigate dependency on a particular vendor’s product or reduce the use of that product in your environment?
Maintain a systematic and vigilant approach to security. Some may be tempted, in tough economic times, to short-circuit proven security solutions. In its governance role, EA can provide both the vigilance and expertise to ensure that security is not compromised. Through careful evaluation of any security implications of proposed change, EA can keep the focus on improving the quality of security and responding to ongoing and emerging threats to the enterprise in the most cost-effective way, while simultaneously illuminating and helping to remediate security bottlenecks. As the aspect of an organization responsible for delivering common services, EA can build serves that make quality security systems quicker and less expensive to implement.
Analyze and recommend where outsourcing can provide significant benefits. EA enables organizations to understand the ramifications and assess the value of moving specific IT activities offshore.
Take the initiative to review and modify the IT roadmap. Without anyone demanding it, the EA team should be proactive in taking a long hard look at its 18-month to three-year road map in the light of current economic conditions. All strategies are based on the best estimation of what will drive the business and the IT development to support it. Changing times mean changing conditions and therefore changed priorities. The EA team should take on a leadership role in adjusting plans, even if it means delaying cherished projects such as SOA.
These are just a few of the ways in which the leadership and staff of EA can contribute to their organization in clear and documentable ways that management can recognize as adding clear cost-effective direct value to the organization.
Technology Innovation and SOA
From a strategic perspective with regard to SOA, this is not the time to be proposing grand schemes with high price tags and uncertain results, but it is precisely the time to implement specific services that reduce cost.
At the same time, the EA team must keep an open eye for new technology solutions. While everyone can predict but no one can know what’s going to happen next, all indicators suggest that we are in for a long, difficult period. But new and innovative solutions also emerge during such times.
Strategy does not become irrelevant in an economic downturn any more than it would become irrelevant to an army that is forced to retreat. One could reasonably argue that effective strategies become even more important in volatile times, where accurate decisions may not only impact profitability but the very survivability of the enterprise. EA’s task is to adapt its strategies to changed conditions and provide leadership and productive efforts to meet the challenges and opportunities that such conditions bring.
As Senior Technical Architect in the Corporate Office of Technology of Guardian Life, Jonathan Mack guides the architecture of major re-engineering projects implementing state-of-the-art SOA and BPM. Prior to Guardian, as chief architect at 1-800-Flowers.com, Jonathan led efforts to make its multi-brand, multi-channel initiatives service-oriented. Through his career on the cutting edge of technological change, Jonathan has garnered valuable insight into the opportunities and risks involved in transforming enterprises from siloed, legacy environments to agile service-oriented architectures.